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You either support high standards of justice or you don’t. In this case, most Canadians, along with their government, do not (Janet Hamlin/AP)
You either support high standards of justice or you don’t. In this case, most Canadians, along with their government, do not (Janet Hamlin/AP)

Lawrence Martin

In the matter of Omar Khadr, shame on us Add to ...

To avoid depression over the standards of justice in this country, here's a tip: Stay away from opinion polls on Omar Khadr.

If you ever thought Canadians were a progressive, fair-minded people who believed in equal rights before the law, these soundings tell a different story.

They say most Canadians don't want the Toronto-born Mr. Khadr to be returned to Canada from Guantanamo Bay for a legitimate judicial process. All other nations have repatriated their Gitmo detainees. Led by our counterclockwise Justice Department, we are the lone heathen holdout.

In the case of the 23-year-old Mr. Khadr, we invoke a double standard. We're saying he's not entitled to the same judicial rights as others. In so doing, we turn our backs on repeated rulings of our top courts that his rights have been violated, that we're failing "to comply with a fundamental principle of justice."

There have been no less than four such court verdicts, all of them favouring, if not ordering, Mr. Khadr's repatriation. In spurning these rulings, we're effectively joining our Conservative government in saying: "Thanks for your efforts, dear justices, but we prefer the kangaroo court."

It might be remembered that, under the Liberals, Canadian intelligence officials interrogated Mr. Khadr, who was without legal counsel, after systematic sleep deprivation. These Canadian practices, as a court ruling stated, offended "the most basic standards." But the fact that we have been complicit in Gitmo's coercive travesties doesn't seem to matter, either, not to our medievalists.

At one point, six of our former foreign affairs ministers appealed to the Harper government in an open letter to come to its senses on Guantanamo. It also didn't matter; their plea got the cold shoulder. The Obama administration asked Ottawa for help in resolving the Gitmo problem. It, too, was rejected.

At issue is not whether Mr. Khadr is innocent or guilty of killing an American medic during a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002. For argument's sake, let's say he's guilty. Let's say he knew what he was doing as a 15-year-old, that he had not been brainwashed since he was 8 by his al-Qaeda father. Let's say that his action in the firefight was unprovoked, that prison-guard reports that he is well-behaved and salvageable are hogwash, and that he is basically rotten to the core.

Even if this were all true, any self-respecting society that believes in the principles of fundamental justice would not respond to his case the way Canada has. Omar Khadr has been held eight years without trial.

In the Harper government, some departments operate on the basis of erudition, some on the basis of knee-jerk ideological bias. At Rob Nicholson's Justice Department, the latter appears to predominate. In the policy-making on increased prisons, on mandatory minimum sentencing, on other draconian law and order measures, scholarly studies and reports are routinely ignored or suppressed because they go against the government's cemented preconceptions.

This is the mentality that has greeted the case of the last Westerner at Guantanamo. It's an approach that preys on the primal prejudices of voters. Buttressed by the country's predominantly right-wing media, it's also an approach that has found considerable support.

In last week's most recent court verdict slamming the government, a Federal Court judge said that, unless Ottawa moved to safeguard Mr. Khadr's rights, he was prepared to order he be brought home. The government predictably appealed the verdict, knowing that, with the Khadr military tribunal trial set to begin next month, it has successfully run out the clock.

MP Irwin Cotler, a former justice minister, says that the trial will be the first of a child soldier in modern history and that such a trial is prohibited under international humanitarian law. Any thought that something like this might cause the Harper government to reconsider is, of course, risible. These honourable men rebuff their own high court verdicts. They rebuff the will of Parliament - when not shutting it down - on Afghan detainee documents. For them, international law is of trifling concern.

In the matter of Omar Khadr, the question is hardly complicated. You either support high standards of justice or you don't. In the Khadr case, most Canadians, along with their government, do not. It's a national disgrace.

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